What to Do When You Love Him, But Your GUT says GET OUT?

Q. I want to be with  my boyfriend but we have major issues he won’t address. We are moving into a new apartment on May 1. Every fiber in my body is telling me to get out. At least get out and live on my own where I can stop and breathe and think. But I can’t summon a way to get out of this.  HELP. – 20-something

I’m in love with a man 10 years my senior. He’s a bit young for a 33-year-old and I’m a bit old for a 23-year-old.  Me: an ivy-league political science graduate with lots of debt and energy, looking to change the world for the better. He: a former reporter-turned-activist, congressional staffer and campaign manager who’s never quite finished that undergrad degree.  He and I are everyone’s favorite couple in the circles we run in. We met on the Obama campaign and fell in love at the Inauguration. He is the first truly kind, caring and chivalrous man I’ve ever been with.


But things are deeply flawed. He drinks and smokes cigarettes without my knowing, and makes me feel like I’m attacking him when I try to talk with him about it.  The other day I found 12 empty (large) vodka bottles in the liquor cabinet and when I confronted him about it (twice) he told me I was “ruining” our dinner and we stopped talking for two and a half days.


Our sex life is stilted. I’ve always had a large appetite for sex, but he has issues with sex and his body image. I’ve never felt like we have enough sex. During a period we went 2 months without sex, I cheated with a good friend, who I thought I was innocently confiding in about my unmet needs. I feel immense guilt about this on a regular basis. I’ve never told my boyfriend, because I love him and don’t want our relationship to die.


I’ve been living with him ever since I moved back to the state where we met.  We just signed a lease on a new apartment we’re moving to May 1. Every fiber in my body is telling me to get out. At least get out and live on my own where I can stop and breathe and think. But I can’t summon a way to get out of this. I’ve already signed on, complicit in my creation of this house of cards. He would be blindsided. I don’t want to break up with him, but don’t feel like I can move full steam ahead like everything’s hunky dory when there are significant structural fault lines that cause me so much mental anguish.


The fact is, I want to be with him, but we need to address these major issues. And I don’t feel like he’s willing to even talk with me about them. Over the past year I’ve asked him directly 3 times if he’d be willing to talk to some one (go to therapy) either on his own or with me, and he patently refuses every time.


What the hell am I to do?

A: Do not ignore the voices in your head.

Being everyone’s favorite couple is not a good enough reason to be together. There’s obviously a shared passionate interest and connection between the two of you, but the flaws you mention are not going to get better with time unless he wants them to and is willing to take some big steps to change. You have a lot in front of you. And you have to be responsible to you first.

It may be the hardest conversation you will ever have, but being honest now will either save your relationship or be the breather you need to know that it’s not right. It sounds to me like when you do have this conversation you will indeed feel a weight lifted off of you.

Guilt is no reason to keep pretending that things are “hunky dory”.  You say you have a lot of debt. Is that the reason you feel tied to keeping the lease? Can you move in with friends, parents? Help him find a roommate?

More importantly, you mention a lot of serious problems. And you are not happy in this relationship as many signs are pointing to. You moving in, and not breaking down this house of cards, is taking a serous gamble on your happiness and growth. You don’t have to live together. You can be there for him if he wants to seek help. You can still work in it. But grab the lifeline that this window opens up.

Just by writing this letter I think you know the answer. A few questions for you.


Beyond his being kind and chivalrous, what do YOU get out of the relationship? When you say you are everyone’s favorite couple, why is that? Is it because you are fun together and interesting to them and passionate about their issues?  That doesn’t matter if you can’t have conversations about your issues. Particularly his alcohol problem. And sex. And his tendency to put everything back on you.

These 40-something women may not have your exact same situation….but you might find a few red flags to help you think about what is right for you:

“At 24, I was in love. But he was an alcoholic. We grew apart.  I graduated art school. Got a job. He was still unemployed and going out all the time. I became the mother. You shouldn’t drink so much. Let’s go home. It kills sex.  I felt trapped. I wasn’t growing.  We stopped having sex and I am a very sexual person. We tried going to a therapist. It didn’t work. If have to talk about sex you are not having…not going to work. Don’t confuse good at partying together as good together. “ – 40-something, art gallery owner, Los Angeles CA


“I used to have these dreams about stop signs. When you’re in a wrong relationship you have these stupid, stereotypical dreams of waking up in a dead end. I know it sounds so silly but I would wake up sweating and looking over at my partner going “What am I doing?” I stayed too long. He had a chip on his shoulder. A short temper. We had good times with our friends but we couldn’t communicate. We broke up but got back together. He would sort of prey on me to try to get my sympathy and I always felt bad leaving him. I can’t do this. He’s going to be helpless. They’ll play helpless but they’re not. That’s the thing. Once I decided to leave him he became really angry.  Wouldn’t talk to me. Blamed me.  It was just really, really rough. But once I left everything fell into place. – 40-something, wife, mom, Los Angeles, CA


“Don’t think whatever that flaw is that it is going to get better by itself or by virtue of being in a relationship. The older you get, the more pressures you have – the more stress. The windows between the act ups, the problems, get shorter and shorter and shorter. It can be an emotional prison. – 40-something, divorced, single, working mom, Bridgeport, CT


Really think about what you are getting into, what you are getting out of it, and if staying together is going to help your issues get any better. Don’t feel obligated to make it work. Feel obligated to make you work.

“I stayed with something for too long despite being unhappy. I loved him but I knew I was unhappy.  I somehow felt obligated to make everything work. But you can’t make it work. There is no reason to be with someone who makes you unhappy…in any capacity. Ever. That person in your life should enrich your life. And make your life funny, more fun, and more awesome, and more great. And that is a hard thing when you are younger because I think you do have this determination to make it work.” — 40-something, wife, mom, designer, Brooklyn, NY

I know it’s hard when you love someone. As one woman said to me, “You can have two great people who are just not great together. Hopefully you don’t find that out too late.” But all of the issues aside, if you truly love him it may be the best thing for him too. This woman admits being honest with her boyfriend that she was about to move in with was the hardest thing she has ever done but it was worth it in spades.

“He will always be a part of my heart and soul absolutely. He made a huge impact my life. He was a loving, caring human being. But I knew it wasn’t right. I was dreading moving in with him and I couldn’t tell him. Finally, I just did. I said, “I just can’t do this. I love you. You’re one of my best friends but I’m not good enough for you. You deserve somebody that craves you. I just don’t.” I think that was the hardest thing ever. You know what he said to me? I’ll never forget it. He was like “Thank you.” It was like “Finally. He knew. He was like, “now I can breathe.” He was grateful that I was able to rip the band-aid off and just say it. They were the hardest words I’ve ever had to say. I think that situation actually taught me how to be honest. He deserved that. He It was heartbreaking. It was devastating. But it is the best thing I ever could have done. – 40-something, wife, mom, Dallas, TX

In the end, you have to trust your gut. And do it before it’s too late.

“You have to trust your gut. You know when something doesn’t feel right. I called off my wedding 10 days before it was supposed to happen. As painful as that decision was I’m so glad I made it that way. I had a lot of people tell me “Oh my God, I would have just gotten married and then gotten divorced.” I can’t even imagine how much more painful that would be.

Trust your heart. If something doesn’t feel right it’s not going to change”. People say that all the time and it’s kind of an overused phrase but it is so true. You’re not going to change anybody from who they are as a core. So you either got to be okay with the way it is exactly as it is now or move on. I had to trust that the next day was just going be a little bit better and I will get closer to knowing that I was doing the right thing. — 40-something, wife, working mom, Hermosa Beach, CA

Good luck. And to all the 40-sometthing women out there, please add your advice on this question! Would love to hear more perspectives!

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